The Strategy Revealed
Sirens wail: the STAR squad is on its way from Central City and other FCPD units are forming a perimeter.
“Noose is rabbiting! Don’t let him get away!” Wraith yells: Noose’s murder of Wraith’s old workmates still festers!
Leaving Ginger in Bad Tripp’s unbreakable grip, and Roid reeling harmlessly about the dockside, Skylark and Nightfall race after Noose, who, burdened by Envision, is still in sight.
Performer swoops down: deposits Holmes atop the warehouse: then drops limp as his astral form departs to take up the chase. A barrage of flares fails to stop the fugitive: then Wraith’s gray form is momentarily revealed as he blasts Noose at close range. The felon falls!
“FCM! It’s going off in here!”
The comms flash comes from Calculus II:
“Candyman’s strategy is clear now! He’s going for Underworld! He’s in the Golden Calf sucker pit – he’s killed several people and taken a TV news-team hostage!”
It looks like the villains, conscious or otherwise, must be left to STAR squad’s abilities. Wraith, spitefully, shoots Noose one more time for good measure, then takes to the air. Skylark and Nightfall are whisked up by Performer: they find themselves riding with Bad Tripp, Ginger – now barely stirring – and Holmes: and as the telekinetic platform picks up pace over the water, Wraith as well.
“Calculus here: open a vid channel for me!”
Wraith relays the scene as Calculus II beams it in to him:
Candyman, clad in form-fitting hazmat gear and accompanied by a blonde the Massive has no difficulty recognizing as Michelle Ken – Angel Dust – is working his way through the pit toward the high-roller deck. From time to time he sprays gas at the cowering crowds. He’s got Amy Feng in a headlock and is ensuring the black-haired camera-girl stays on him:
“Trust me, you viewers will love this! If it bleeds it leads, isn’t that what you say? Hahaha! Well I’m gonna make someone bleed – oh yeah!
“You know I’m a peaceful man, but this is about my rights, my creative rights. That’s my recipe, my 11 Secret Herbs and Spices. No one can rob me of my rights and expect nothing to happen!”
Bad Tripp’s ugly excuse for a face shows no reaction to the danger Charlie’s in, but his eyes blaze redly and he snarls urgently:
“He’d be makin’ fer somewheres he expecks Unnerworld ta be. Lissen, Holmes: see if ya c’n get insida’ Ginger’s head an’ fin’ out where dat is!”
The Golden Calf is looming as Holmes finally replies:
“Yes! There’s a secret sealed area – he’s probably making for that! I’ll keep trying to get details!”
“I’ll finish tying Miss Ginger, just in case she tries to pull one on you,” Nightfall offers.
Calculus II comms in again:
“Things are getting critical: I’m going to try to intervene: I’ll give myself a 73% chance of coming out again. If it goes bad in there, it will go bad all the way!”
“We’re practically there!” Skylark protests, but it’s too late: the camera feed shows Calculus appearing, raising a wand-like weapon, and missing: Candyman’s return spray from his chemical back-pack doesn’t miss and Calculus falls out of view. But the intervention has at least forced Candyman to release Amy Feng: she and camera-girl Charlie dive for cover: Candyman heads from the high-roller deck toward Mr. Eddie’s office, Angel Dust close on his heels.
“Lissen Performer: we cain’t do dis sh*t de usual way – ya gotta set us all down outside, den we go in d’reckly,” Bad Tripp growls, rolling massive shoulders to loosen them. “I’ll make a try at bustin’ inta Eddie’s deck t’ru de glass. Den we see whut we c’n do frum dere.”
“We can just wait and let Candyman and Eddie fight it out,” Wraith suggests cold-bloodedly.
“Naw, not an option: civilians,” Tripp replies shortly.
There’s no time left for further debate: as Performer sets the group down, Bad Tripp charges into the Golden Calf, Nightfall hard on his heels: launches himself up and smashes through the armored glass of Eddie’s supervisory deck. It’s completely dark with an obscurity that must mean a gas or smoke of some type. That doesn’t bother Tripp: he’s shut his breathing off for the time being. Feeling the edge of a desk, he flips it up and away: it crashes satisfyingly as he steps to one side to allow Nightfall to roll in. The young masked adventurer has a rebreather and vision gear: but even his night-goggles can’t penetrate the dark mist filling the room.
Summoned by Tripp and Nightfall, Performer glances back at Holmes, who is crouched with Ginger beside the main entrance.
“I’ll be fine! Tell Tripp: there’s a secret plate in the floor right outside the ‘cheat’s room’ with access down to the sealed area,” Holmes urges. Performer rises over the heads of the fleeing civilians and floats rapidly in, summoning his Light of Truth and sending it in to purge Mr. Eddie’s office of mist. Below him, Skylark is marshaling the last of the crowd away and out: several bodies littered around the entrance testify to Candyman’s lethal intent: but they seem to be mainly casino goons.
“You must leave, Ms Feng!” Wraith commands impressively, “You’re in danger, and the witnesses are all outside now!”
Amy seems reluctant to leave, but Wraith turns his attention to Calculus. The young villain is alive:
“Got me… uh… with acid!” Calculus hisses. “Kick his butt!”
“We’ll get help back as soon as we can!” Skylark exclaims. There’s nothing further she can offer: Nightfall is the only one with any real first-aid knowledge.
“Woik ya way down ta d’ money deck,” Tripp comms, “Clean it out!” He grins as he heads through the secret door in back of Eddie’s office, hard left down the steep flight of stairs, past an open weapons locker the Massive didn’t find last time, and down to the landing. His memory – sharpened by the bitterness of failure – tells him it’s a left to the underground parking and right to the sinister chamber which must be the ‘cheat’s room’ Ginger referred to. Reaching it, he punches the floor, digging massive fingers into it. With a satisfying snapping and groaning, a large plate rips out, revealing a shaft down into darkness.
Beneath the Golden Calf
A few minutes later the Massive, minus Holmes who’s still outside, assemble at the edge of a moderate sized room. Now that Performer’s cleared it of smoke, they can see both a set of elevator doors, and a stairwell door, on their right. But half-left in the opposite corner, the broad muzzle of some type of cannon juts out.
“Guess dis is my chance ta find traps,” Bad Tripp jests somewhat grimly, and paces into the room:
BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT!
The graffiti giant rocks slightly as sandbags, spewed out at high velocity, splatter off him. He walks over to the cannon and squeezes its muzzle until with a click the projector gives up and jams.
“Dat’s dat. Ya better check fer traps onna doors Wraith.”
Wraith ghosts through the wall next the stairwell door, and reappears from the wall next the elevator:
“Seems clear. There’s an escape-chute hidden behind that corner though,” he says, gesturing to the corner opposite the disabled cannon. It’s convexed back into the room, like a partial wedge of a cylinder.
Bad Tripp walks over to the elevator doors, fastens one mitt onto one and pulls it off. As he’s about to walk over to the chute, Skylark yells:
“Freeze, Tripp! I heard something click just then!”
Sure enough, the trap is under the floor outside the elevator! Wraith takes a few minutes to disarm it, by which time Nightfall Skylark and Performer are ready to set off down the stairwell.
Underworld’s Boost Bash
Smoke again obscures the entrance to a room at the bottom of the stairwell. Performer’s Light of Truth clears it, to reveal the body of Angel Dust lying near the entrance: most of her head is missing but from previous experience, she’s been slain by Underworld’s 4” caliber blaster! Beyond, Nightfall and Skylark can see a huge, factory-like room. Four massive vats stand in a row to dominate the center, but industrial-grade cabinets, work benches, filters and driers loom up, some of them nearly reaching to the 12’ stud ceiling.
“I don’t suppose you’d consider just walking away,” calls a voice from somewhere within. It’s too heavily masked by a voice modifier to tell who it is: but the harsh, mocking tones are the same as the Massive have heard in Holmes’ post-cogs: Underworld!
“Lemme answer dat question wid some violence,” Bad Tripp rumbles in response. And so the final battle begins!
Nightfall leaps into cover against the nearest crates: Skylark leapfrogs him onto the workbench running around the wall nearest the entrance. From there, she can see Candyman: he’s prone, lying beside the first vat nearest the entrance, his back-pack blasted apart by a shot that must have chewed through his chest: he looks very dead! And even more importantly, she can see a dark figure standing in cover at the far corner.
Cued by Skylark, Performer steps out of his body: zips in astral form behind the dark-garbed figure. It’s Underworld all right: his face is fully masked and he wears goggles and a re-breather. He turns and his goggles seem to focus right on the astral being! Performer’s trademark flares blossom: Underworld seems unfazed by them: but in the slight distraction, Wraith speeds across the factory, taking cover behind the huge steel drier cabinet. The floor shakes slightly as Bad Tripp thunders in behind him.
Nightfall hops atop the furthest vat, closest to their quarry: but Underworld reads the play: dives behind a steel detox-tub, sends a blast right through the vat Nightfall’s perched on: it explodes!
Wraith rises from where he’s dived to get clear of the blast: fixes his electronic lock on the blaster:
“Got it! I got his blaster!”
Bad Tripp wastes no time: races around the tub and slams down on Underworld, driving him onto the floor: then rises to slam him against the tub, opening him up for further hurt from the rest of the Massive!
Who oblige: Underworld is blasted and pounded until he sags in the gargoyle’s wristlock. Skylark pulls the mask off:
It’s Mr. Eddie.
Who is foxing: he slaps electro-gloves around Nightfall’s head, causing the youngster to convulse with agony! Performer, now corporeal, lines Underworld up and lets him have a full power blast at point-blank range and this time, the inert super-villain is not playing possum.
As Wraith carefully disarms all the gadgetry on Underworld’s costume, and Skylark and Nightfall confirm that whoever or whatever Candyman was, he’s no longer among the living, Holmes’ voice comes loud and clear into the heads of the Massive:
“Southside police are here! And I think I see a STAR armored car! Tripp, what’s the name of your Southside PD contact? Maybe he can keep them off our backs until we’re clear!”
Bad Tripp gives Holmes Pete Hungary’s number, but time’s pressing so it’s not long before the Massive make their exeunt:
Wraith ghosts Underworld – now stripped to vest and pants – and himself up to the top of the Centurion Statue, to await the others;
Performer, Nightfall and Skylark leave via the main entrance, the former enjoying the blaze of camera-spots and warning the police to send in the Fire Department first to cope with the poison gas, spilled chemicals and burning vat;
Bad Tripp slips out through the old bunker system and into the river, and away into the obscure alleys of Southside. He’s helped bring the Golden Calf to ruin: it’s enough for the time being: the rage that fuels his meta-state is waning. Maybe there’s a chance now to patch Joe Tripley’s life back together.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Prison
Having pointed out the bodies and the security cameras that will have recorded Underworld’s evil, Performer flies Nightfall Skylark and Holmes up to join Wraith. They leave Ginger for the forces of law to process. Wraith is waiting.
“I think I’ll take this” – he gestures at the unconscious villain – “to Blackstone direct. They’ll be able to keep him secure.”
Skylark eyes Wraith skeptically:
“Do we have your word he’ll reach Blackstone alive? Wraith, I noticed you took a cheap shot at Noose, and some of the things you’ve been saying sound… well… like a Black Hat.”
“Uh… sure, unless he resists,” Wraith replies unconvincingly. But it’s the best they can do, because he’s away to Centery Bay and rising higher and higher over the water.
At about a mile up, Underworld revives. Perhaps he doesn’t realize how high he is or perhaps he doesn’t care: he kicks Wraith shrewdly, and involuntarily, the gray suit’s grasp relaxes:
“Oops,” Wraith announces, calmly following the plummeting figure. He hears the crisp smack as at maximum velocity the super-villain smashes into the ocean. Wraith drops lower still…
Writing Fini to Underworld’s Career
Warden J Stormcloud Drummer is summoned by the yard guards: he recognizes Wraith from his earlier visit. Beside the gray battlesuit, a near-naked body lies, water pooling round it and mingling with the blood oozing from ears and nose.
“I insisted your guards cuff the body,” Wraith explains, “This is Underworld, also known as Mr. Eddie of the Golden Calf. He won’t be running graft and pushing Boost anytime soon.
“Assuming he’s alive,” Wraith adds off-handedly.
Without the magical golden fountain of crooked money funding CCC’s ploys, the Evil Capes remain in custody. Mr. Eddie/Underworld, damned by his own security footage of the Boost operation he created using Candyman’s formula, pleads guilty as early as the preliminary hearing, accepts his sentence, and stays a guest of Blackstone.
It’s too much to ask my readers to believe that, chastened by the breaking of graft from the Golden Calf, FCPD doubles its cancellation rate on mob-related crime; or that the big corporations like Grant Conglomerates disassociate from the corrupt city administration. No: parasites like Lester Hillermann and Commissioner Gilbert still run like cockroaches in the spaces between law-abiding citizens and the city administration: and the Freedom City Massive will be called on to fight again. But those stories will not be told here. This book is closed.